Singapore: Graduate Employment Survey 2019/20 findings
?is it representative of PEI EDPs fresh graduates’ employment outcomes

26 April 2021

On 12 April 2021, the Committee for Private Education released the findings of their Private Education Institutions Graduate Employment Survey 2019/20. Together with the Industry Research Team at EduValue Global , we looked into its findings and identified key areas for improvement and provided some recommendations for consideration.

On 12 April 2021, the Committee for Private Education (CPE) released the findings of their Private Education Institutions (PEI) Graduate Employment Survey (GES) 2019/20. This annual survey is for graduates from full-time bachelor’s level External Degree Programmes (EDPs) in Singapore to obtain an understanding of the employment outcomes of fresh PEI graduates. The findings from PEI GES aim to help prospective students make informed decisions on their education choices.

Do the GES survey results provide us with a comprehensive understanding of how fresh graduates from PEI EDPs fair in their employment outcomes as intended? Perhaps a review of the GES and its methodology should be conducted to provide a more accurate representation of PEI EDPs fresh graduates’ employment outcomes. This article looks at some key areas for improvement and provides some recommendations for consideration.

Key Areas for Improvement

1) Low response rate of the survey and number of schools included in the findings

The low response rate of the survey and number of schools that included in the findings of the GES might not provide an accurate enough representation of the PEI EDPs fresh graduates’ employment outcomes. The overall response rate is 39.2%

(~ 3,641 respondents) of 9,289 graduates from 30 PEIs. When we look into the breakdown of respondents across the schools, we see a large proportion of respondents coming mainly from 5 PEIs (Singapore Institute of Management, Kaplan Higher Education Academy, PSB Academy, James Cook University and Management Development Institute of Singapore). The results might not be representative of the entire Singapore Private Education Industry because it takes the data from just over a third of the cohort from one-sixth of the PEI schools and generalises the recorded experiences to those across the board.

Additionally, the low response rate is not a one-off instance but seems to be a trend over the past couple of years. Looking back at the GES findings for the past 5 years, the average response rate is 38.22%. Apart from the 2018/19 survey, the response rate is consistently below 40%. Would this mean that the findings over the years from a small portion of the fresh graduates has been used to generalise and represent the entire population’s conditions of employment outcomes? This trend needs to be analysed, the lack of participation investigated and addressed so as to provide the best possible representative overview of PEI EDPs fresh graduates’ employment outcomes.

Table designed by Gillian Koh with data compiled from GES 2015/16, GES 2016/17, GES 2017/18, GES 2018/19, GES 2019/20

2) Assumptions of the PEI EDPs Industry

There are also two assumptions made of the PEI EDPs Industry. The first assumption is that all PEIs are equal in their EDPs offerings and size, and can be compared to one another. In reality, PEIs are very diverse - some institutions like Singapore Institute of Management and Kaplan Higher Education Academy offer EDPs across multiple fields, while other institutions such as Air Transport Training College, Parkway College of Nursing and Allied Health, and Singapore Raffles Music College offer EDPs in specialised vocations and fields. Without taking these into account when comparing institutions, we are dismissing the functionality and purpose of these PEIs. Therefore, some PEIs have completely different offerings from others and comparisons made might not be relevant.

Secondly, the omission of the international student population working or employed overseas from the GES findings is not included and might not represent the actual business of the PEI EDPs industry. A large number of PEIs rely heavily on the robust international student market that seeks higher education opportunities in Singapore for better career prospects in their home country or overseas. Consequently, they form a substantial proportion of prospective students and student intake. Therefore, by excluding them from the GES findings, the GES only partially fulfils its purpose as it only caters to providing local prospective students with the necessary information to make informed decisions on their higher education choices.

3) Missed opportunity to convey insight on initial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on graduates’ ability to obtain employment opportunities and the impact of the SGUnited Traineeship Programme

This edition of the GES missed the opportunity to convey insights into the initial impact of COVID-19 on employment opportunities on graduates as these respondents completed their full-time bachelor’s level EDPs at PEIs between May 2019 and April 2020. While it is understandable that it is a challenging task considering COVID-19 only started affecting Singapore from November 2019 and the country underwent the circuit breaker from April to June 2020, the survey findings indicate there were some efforts to evaluate its effects. This is Table 1’s tabulation of the GES findings where it includes graduates enrolled in this programme were taken into account and classified under the ‘In Part-Time/Temporary Employment’. As such, the GES could have elaborated and contextualised the data.

Our recommendations for consideration

We have provided some recommendations for consideration regarding the issues we have highlighted above.

To combat the low response rate of the survey and number of schools included in the findings, further investigation into the survey participation and existing respondent incentivisation is needed to effectively address and obtain the most accurate and representative view of graduates from PEI EDPs.

We have some suggestions on how to correct the two assumptions the GES had of the PEI EDPs Industry. Firstly, since we have established that PEIs’ have different offerings, the GES should no longer compare them against one another but instead the GES analysis could compare how graduates fair based on the course clusters (grouping degrees from the same field together and comparing their salary and employment outcomes) similar to how the Polytechnic Graduate Employment Survey (PolyGES) interprets and analyses their data (see Table 2 from PolyGES below). They should also include an annex with the list of degrees surveyed and indicate which PEI these degrees were surveyed from. To further contextualise the data, the reported median salary should be compared to the respective industry standards of entry level salary.

Credit: PolyGES 2020

Secondly, to provide a comprehensive GES, the findings should be adapted to include international students’ perspectives while maintaining a local perspective. This could be done by first collecting and analysing data on employment status from both local and international students. In the data analysis, there should be three sets of data presented – (1) a collective overview of PEI EDPs graduates employment outcomes regardless of whether they are local or international students (Table 2 below), (2) Local graduates’ outcome only (see Table 3 below) and (3) international graduates’ outcome only (similar template as Table 3 below). The presentation of the findings should be according to course clusters as aforementioned in our suggestions. The data collected for international students should also be contextualised to the country’s economic climate and industry standards of entry level salary. In this way, it assists prospective students in their decision making-process in pursuit of higher education. Hence, our suggestion enhances the usefulness and accuracy of the GES to prospective international students as it would provide invaluable insights and a more comprehensive and well-rounded understanding of their education choices and career prospects in Singapore. Collectively, the three sets of data analysis would present a more contextualised and informed picture of the number of economically active fresh PEI degree graduate respondents.

To convey insight on COVID-19 pandemic impact on graduates’ ability to obtain employment opportunities and graduates on SGUnited Traineeship Programme, the GES could have elaborated and contextualised the data like how it was presented in the findings of the PolyGES.

Although some recommendations have been put forth, it is also important to be aware of the potential caveats of our suggestions such as the sensitivity and difficulty of collecting data such as the size of schools, other countries economic data, etc. Nevertheless, a review of the GES and its methodology could be taken into consideration so that it becomes an invaluable tool for the PEI industry in Singapore and for our prospective overseas markets of students.